Games as Rhetorical Tools

My friend Beth sent me information about a game that has been making some headlines in England and France. It’s called Miss Bimbo and apparently there are about a million subscribers in France and about 200,000 subscribers in England. Many of the subscribers are 7-17 year-old girls. Its creator is a 23-year-old web designer named Nicolas Jacquart. In this online game, which appears to be similar to Webkinz, players attempt to keep their “bimbo” alive by occasionally feeding her (but, of course, maintaining her low weight), encouraging her to find a sugar daddy rather than doing something nasty like working, and “if necessary,” getting breast implants and other kinds of plastic surgery.

An interesting thing is that when I pointed this game out to a group of friends, Robin said that when she first read about it, she thought it was a smart critique of Barbie culture. Then she realized it wasn’t a parody but was supposed to be taken seriously. It would be interesting to see what kind of game the Barbie Liberation Organization might design.

I love the idea of using games as rhetorical tools for social criticism and editorial comment. Ian Bogost has created a company called Persuasive Games which is based on exactly this idea. He says, “Our games influence players to take action through gameplay.” The idea of using games as rhetorical tools has huge potential that has hardly been tapped. It’s one of the core ideas of my class called Creating Games. Students in that class are required to create a board game that has a point of view. The way we talk about this in the class is that the game needs to have a message or teach a lesson of some sort. After some initial hesitation, most of the students understand what I mean by “point of view” and actually develop interesting games. I’ll be discussing some of these games and some of my ideas about using games as a communication medium at the Eastern Communication Association Conference in May.

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